We adopt a ‘bench to bedside’ approach to study the basis of compulsive behavioural disorders. In our basic research, we use zebrafish as a model species try to understand the biology of compulsive disorders. In particular, we want to understand more about the interaction between molecular (genetic/epigenetic) and environmental (e.g., stress) factors that cause compulsive behaviours, and the associated neural circuits, to manifest. Our approach is theoretically guided by the principles of precision medicine, i.e., that understanding the biology of neuropsychiatric conditions will help develop individualised treatments for patients. Our work involves significant amounts of method development, owing to the paucity of validated, reliable measure in zebrafish. We also carry out translational research in humans, in particular looking at the interactions of impulsivity, risk-taking (personality) and (environmental) stress on alcohol use and misuse. In our applied research, we translate our findings in the laboratory to test questions relating to compulsive disorders, such as addiction and relapse (in humans) and stereotypic behaviours in domestic, farm and laboratory animals.
- Basic neural and behavioural biology of impulsive/compulsive disorders.
In our basic research, we use zebrafish as a model species try to understand the biology of compulsive disorders. We exploit recent developments in behavioural testing of adult zebrafish (many pioneered during Matt Parker's time working at Queen Mary University of London) to study gene x environment interactions in the development of impulsive behaviour. We also have developed behavioural tools that allow for fast effective screening of adult fish for learning and memory. Our goal in our zebrafish work is to understand the behavioural biology of the species in order to use it to its full capacity as a model in behavioural neuroscience.
- Pre-clinical/translational work in healthy human participants
We are interested in the interactions between impulsivity, risk-taking (personality) and (environmental) stress on alcohol use and misuse. In particular, we have found that healthy individuals that are categorised as 'risk-takers' (through psychometric tests) are more likely to crave and drink more alcohol when they experience stress. We are looking into the mechanisms that underlie this propensity, and how being a 'low risk taker' might provide resilience against stress-induced drinking.
- Compulsive/stereotypic behaviour in captive/domestic animals
We have been involved for some time in the study of compulsive stereotypic behavioural patterns in captive/domestic/laboratory animals. This stems from Matt Parker's PhD research, and ongoing collaborations outside the lab. In particular, we are interested in the development of stereotypic behaviour, including why some animals are more at risk, and how environmental conditions affect some animals in this manner. Our research has suggested that these behaviours may manifest as a result of restrictive environmental conditions and alterations in ascending dopamine pathways.
Our approach is theoretically guided by the principle that understanding the biology of neuropsychiatric conditions will help develop more effective treatments for patients.
We are always interested in hearing from potential PhD or MRes students, and have a variety of projects available.
Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have a great idea for a project that fits with our interests!